An Umpire With Everything in Perspective
Max McLeary, who lost sight in his right eye in 1977, rubs 48 baseballs before each Frontier League game.
By IRA BERKOW
CINCINNATI, Aug. 2 - A few years ago, in a game between the Chillicothe Paints and the London Werewolves, a foul ball smashed through Umpire Max McLeary's mask and knocked him down, as someone later recalled, like a sack of rocks.
"The last thing I remember,'' McLeary said, "is someone hollering, 'Max is bleeding!' I thought, 'This cannot be good,' and out I went."
An athletic trainer came flying out of his dugout to see what he could do to bring McLeary back to consciousness. The crowd went silent. The trainer ripped off the mangled mask, pulled the umpire's right eye open and shined a small flashlight into the orb.
The eye that returned his gaze, so to speak, was lifeless.
"Oh, my God!" the panicked trainer exclaimed. "I've lost him! Call 911! I've never lost anyone before!"
McLeary's umpiring partner came running in from his position in the infield.
"Hey," he shouted to the trainer, "check the other eye!"
The trainer shined his light into the other eye and, with relief, a glimmer of life stared back at him.
What the trainer had not known or realized in the confusion was that McLeary has only one eye; he lost the right one in a freakish accident almost 30 years ago. In this incident, McLeary sustained a fractured nose and a second-degree concussion, and needed eight stitches. But there was a blessing in all this: his good eye was still intact.
Bill Francis, a historian at the baseball Hall of Fame, said his research "came up with no record of any other one-eyed umpire."
McLeary, 55, jokes about his disability, with players and managers on the field, and with others off it.
"Here's a trivia question," he said over dinner here recently. "What has three eyes and umpires? Answer: Me and any partner I'm working with."
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